I am not surprised with what happened in Dhaka on July 1. The beginning was in the 1990s. Then, islamist fundamentalists did not behead people or hack them to death. They used to come out on streets and demand death to their enemies. They issued fatwas against me. But instead of taking action against them, the government filed cases against me. That was the beginning of what Bangladesh has become today.
The fundamentalists have no fear. They have been brutally killing secularist bloggers, atheist writers and progressive Muslims. They have been killing Hindus, Buddhists and Christians. They have been killing homosexuals. Their aim is to kill non-Muslims, critics of Islam and progressive people.
I have written 43 books. In my books in the early 90s, I had warned that fundamentalism was rising in Bangladesh. But nobody took my message seriously. Rather, they preferred to throw me out of the country. They thought I was lying. Now, they have realised that I was not lying. But the fundamentalists are now beyond control.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina did not take any action against the killers of secularist, atheist bloggers. Instead, she took action against the bloggers. They were threatened by the government against saying anything that would hurt religious sentiments. Atheist bloggers were imprisoned. Their crime was that they criticised Islam. Hasina’s government never criticised those who killed bloggers, Hindus or rationalists. This is the first time that Hasina admitted something had happened.
Who says there is no Islamic State in Bangladesh? On July 6, Islamic State in Bangladesh posted a video from Raqqa in Syria. They very much exist in the country. The government is saying this is just the Jamaat. But Islamic State tweeted pictures of the terrorists in the restaurant. They were all dressed in black and behind them was the IS flag. They had been missing for six months. They had left their homes and never returned. They got training in the Middle East. Another terrorist was found to be the son of a rich, famous man. The police said around 200 rich and educated kids had left home to become terrorists. In the 1960s, rich kids left home and became ultra leftists. Nowadays, they leave home and become terrorists. They are rich and have studied in good schools. But they have been brainwashed.
So why do they kill people? How can they cut the throats of people? Because they strongly believe that jihad is mandatory for all Muslims. Jihad means fighting non-Muslims, critics of Islam and non-believers. It means turning the land of the enemies into the land of Islam. Jihad is to establish Allah's laws everywhere. It is their jihad and they believe that they will go to heaven. While sparing those who looked like Muslims at the restaurant, one of the terrorists said, “We have come to kill non-Muslims. You leave. We are going to heaven.” They believed that by killing non-Muslims, they would go to heaven.
Ishrat Akhand was probably an agnostic or an atheist. Atheists with Muslim background are increasing. So many Bangladeshis are becoming atheists. Islamic fundamentalists are quite disturbed by the presence of atheists in Bangladesh. Ishrat didn’t wear a hijab so she was killed. Faraaz Hossain, who was the friend of Tarishi Jain, was a hero. When Faraaz was freed by the terrorists, he didn’t want to leave his friends behind. He was killed.
The terrorists strongly believe in the verses of the Quran, the words of Allah. They believe they should kill non-believers wherever they find them. Other Muslims do not indulge in violence because they do not take Quranic verses literally.
Islam has to go through the critical scrutiny that other religions have gone through. Barbarity exists in every religion. There was barbarism in Christianity, for instance the Spanish Inquisition. But it has undergone reform. Now the Islamic Inquisition is going on. Islam has to be reformed like other religions. Laws should not be based on religion. States shouldn’t encourage people to become religious. There should be strict separation between state and religion. Non-believers must have the right to express their feelings. There should be freedom of expression.
It is a crucial time for Bangladesh. I blame the government, which has been appeasing Muslim fundamentalists. There are many terrorist organisations in Bangladesh. They have the training. They have money. They have everything they want, to become terrorists. Both the Awami League and the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party ignored this. They knew what was going on with the youth. They thought if they fought the islamists they would be considered anti-Islam. They wanted to be in power. Hasina and Khaleda Zia are in competition to be more religious than the other. Because of their callousness, Bangladesh is full of religious fundamentalists and terrorists.
The author is a writer and activist.
As told to Mandira Nayar